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Coronavirus: Canadian companies now manufacturing ventilators, surgical masks

Coronavirus outbreak: Inside the frontline fight for masks, protective gear
WATCH: Inside the frontline fight for masks, protective gear

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that companies across the country are now producing medical supplies, including hundreds of ventilators, as part of Canada’s battle to increase desperately needed equipment in the fight against COVID-19.

Since the federal government announced its strategy to tap into the private sector to produce medical supplies, Trudeau said close to 3,000 Canadian companies have reached out to offer their expertise and capacity to meet the country’s need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We are seeing the best of what it means to be Canadian,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. “In tough times, we pull together. We are there for each other. We put our hands and ask: ‘How can I help?’”

READ MORE: Toronto hospitals begin rationing protective gear as COVID-19 crisis deepens

The federal government has signed three contracts with companies since March 20 to produce equipment like masks and rapid tests for the new coronavirus as part of the government’s $2-billion effort to buy PPE.

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Thornhill Medical, based in the Greater Toronto Area, is making 500 ventilators that will arrive at hospitals and health-care facilities in early April.

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Meanwhile, Spartan Bioscience Inc. of Ottawa, which makes portable testing kits that can produce results for in 30 minutes, has signed a $78-million order with Ottawa to provide 100 of the machines and one million test kits in the next month alone.

Canada now has 7,727 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, with 92 deaths, as of 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Trudeau also said he had signed a contract with Quebec-based AMD Medicom Inc. to open a domestic manufacturing facility to make N95 protective masks and surgical masks in vast quantities for the Canadian market.

“The entire world is trying to get its hands on the various equipment needed to fight this virus,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we know it’ll be important to be able to have made-in-Canada solutions … it has been a truly amazing and inspiring story to see how many factories and suppliers are stepping up.”

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READ MORE: Ontario lags behind all other provinces in COVID-19 testing

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Ottawa has also signed letters of intent with five companies — Precision Biomonitoring, Fluid Energy Group Ltd., Irving Oil, Calko Group and Stanfield’s — to produce additional test kits, hand sanitizer and protective apparel including masks and gowns.

Trudeau also thanked companies for their donations of PPE and sanitizing supplies to health-care workers in Canada, naming Magna International, General Motors of Canada Company, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd., Linamar Corp., Shell Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy, Alibaba Group and Home Depot that have helped the country’s health-care professionals by donating personal protective  equipment and sanitizing supplies.

Some hospitals are locking up PPE which nurses need: Silas
Some hospitals are locking up PPE which nurses need: Silas

News of an increase in medical supplies comes as front-line health-care workers have sounded the alarm over potential shortages of PPE.

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In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said Monday that province would be “severely challenged” if there is a major spike in COVID-19 cases.

“It will take time for local production to ramp up and for new supplies to reach us,” Ford said.

“The reality is if there’s a massive surge of people coming into our hospitals in the next two weeks, our supply lines will be seriously challenged.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), welcomed Tuesday’s announcement but said the delivery of the protective equipment needs to be fast-tracked into the hands of nurses and doctors “right now.”

“We are seeing nine million surgical masks being used in a week,” she said. “The problem is we aren’t going through enough of them. Because [health-care workers] don’t have them and they are getting sick.”
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READ MORE: How COVID-19 is spreading across Canada

Grinspun said that both Trudeau and Ford need to begin preparing for the “worst-case scenario” where hospitals and long-term care homes experience a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“If we don’t change the channel to prepare for a worst-case scenario … the delivery dates of the PPE will not match the scaling up of the PPE that is required,” she said, noting that France has ordered one billion face masks. “We need to fast-forward the delivery times.”

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the government has ordered over has ordered 1,570 ventilators from companies in Canada, Europe, the U.S. and overseas, and are looking to secure an additional 4,000 or more if needed. Ventilators are crucial pieces of medical equipment, which help patients breathe, as serious COVID-19 cases can attack the lungs.

Anand said the government has also ordered 60 million N95 masks — which help filter out tiny, aerosolized particles that carry the virus — saying they are expected to arrive this week.

“This is all hands on deck,” she said Tuesday. “We are working 24-7, and this country has never seen procurement like it is occurring right now.

“Our government is leaving no stone unturned.”

Trudeau said he’s “hopeful” the equipment will be available in the “coming weeks.” Asked how the equipment will be allocated, the prime minister said he was in close contact with the provinces.

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“We don’t decide around the cabinet table. It is not politicians who decide how resources are allocated. We rely on experts, on medical officials, on co-ordination between medical officials in different provinces,” Trudeau said. “We follow the direct advice of medical experts.”